There’s No Substitute for Stabilizer

I’ve seen the question so many times I just mostly make a resigned sad face when I see it now,  but it still bothers me.   The question usually starts with the words “Can I..” and then goes on to ask whether it’s acceptable to use freezer paper or printer paper or plastic grocery bags as stabilizer for embroidery.  I get the idea behind the inquiry – stabilizer can be expensive,  or at least more expensive than a roll of freezer paper.  Things like printer paper or plastic grocery bags are also usually at hand and don’t need to be purchased specially.  I also suppose,  to some people,  using a common household item might be less intimidating.  There are understandable reasons why people might pursue the option of using something other than the item specifically designed for the purpose,  but there are also several reasons why that’s not usually a good idea.

Before I go into the reasons why we think using things like freezer paper is not the ideal option,  I do want to address the one exception,  using freezer paper for applique.   When cutting patterns for applique,  freezer paper is an option for stabilizing the fabric while you cut out the shapes.   It’s also a viable option for fusing to the back of a fabric you are intending to draw or paint on,  as raw fabric tends to wrinkle.  Keep in mind,  both these activities are embroidery adjacent,  not actually embroidery,  so I still stand by that statement that freezer paper is not generally a great option when it comes to stabilizing embroidery.  Now let’s discuss the reasons why we think this is so.

Reason 1:  Many stabilizers are designed specifically for machine embroidery – I’m sure there are stabilizers out there that started life as pocket lining or something,  but there are also several classes of stabilizers that are intended specifically to be used with machine embroidery.   This category includes poly meshfusible,  and adhesive backing.  Something that is designed specifically for the requirements of the job at hand will most likely work better than something used randomly.

Reason 2:  An embroidery stabilizer can help improve the look of embroidery – Stabilizers are sometimes designed with a specific weight or type of fabric in mind.  The proper marriage of backing or topping,  fabric,  thread and digitized design will create the most professional look and the best outcome.  Using a stabilizer designed for the fabric you want to embroider and the type of look you want to create will give you a much better chance of a successful finished product.

Reason 3:  An embroidery stabilizer can speed up production –  Designs tend to sew out better when they’re stabilized properly.  There’s less puckering,  fewer thread breaks and definitely a cleaner and more professional looking finished product.  Removing stabilizer more quickly with a tearaway option or presenting a tidier and more professional finished look with a washaway option are also benefits to using a stabilizer designed for embroidery.

Reason 4: The right tool for the right job – Freezer paper is designed to protect food from freezer burn.   Plastic grocery bags are designed for carrying your produce and pasta home from the store.   Embroidery stabilizer is designed to lend stability to embroidered designs,  to improve stitch-outs and to help provide a professional finished appearance.  Using products as they were designed will generally bring about the most successful outcome.

In a nutshell,  those are the reasons we think embroidery should be stabilized with machine embroidery backings and toppings,  but we’d love to get your take on this topic.   Have you ever stabilized your embroidery with something other than standard stabilizer?   What was the result?  We’d love to know what you think.

Essential Stock for an Embroidery Shop

Every year,  when we do trade shows,  we always meet some newbies,  people who are just starting out and looking for advice. Often,  they’re swimming in a sea of possible equipment and supplies and mystified about what they need and what could be useful. For those starting out,  or for those who are looking to get their shop equipped with the basics,  we present this embroidery starter kit list.   This list details the items we think a well stocked shop should have.   For the purposes of this list,  I will provide the name of the product and a brief description of the reason we believe it’s an essential item.  The aim of the list is to help those who are stocking their shops get the basic items they need to do almost any embroidery job.

The List

Thread – We sell Iris UltraBrite Polyester Machine Embroidery Thread  and recommend stocking at least your core colors in large cones.   Your core colors are the colors you use regularly,  the ones you replace most often.  For most shops that’s generally between ten to twenty colors.

Stabilizer – Yes,  a shop can get by with just one type of backing,  a lot of shops do that successfully.   We recommend,  however,  taking advantage of the specialty backing options that are available.  Here’s what, in our opinion,  a well stocked shop should have when it comes to stabilizer.

  • Cutaway – A medium weight cutaway will get you through almost any situation when cutaway backing is required.   Medium weight,  when it comes to stabilizer is generally considered to be 2.5 ounces.
  • Tearaway – Two types of tearaway will generally appear in a well stocked shop.  One would be a light weight tearaway suitable for use with shirts.  The other would be heavy weight tearaway that can be used with hats.
  • Poly Mesh – Yes,  this is a lightweight cutaway,  but it’s designed to be used with lighter weight fabrics and to hold a lot of stitches.   It can greatly improve the appearance of embroidery on flimsier fabrics.
  • Adhesive Backing – A must for the times when you want to embroider items that are hard to hoop.  Can also be useful to hold stretchy or slippery fabrics in place.  Adhesive on one side topped with release paper.
  • Water Soluble – This is a topping,  but a must have if you’re embroidering anything with a pile like towels or fleece blankets.   Used to stop stitches from sinking into the fabric.

Bobbins – For commercial embroidery machines bobbins generally come in L or M sizes.  Paper sided and MagnaGlide magnetic bobbins are two popular types.  Some people prefer magnetic bobbins because they say they hold tension better.  When purchasing bobbins,  don’t forget you’ll also need bobbin cases.  Plain works with magnetic bobbins,  a no backlash spring bobbin case is often great with paper sided bobbins.

NeedlesNeedles come in sizes from 65/9 (smallest) to 90/14 (largest).  Many people use a medium size needle,  a 75/11, for most jobs.  Keep in mind that needles also come in sharp and ballpoint options.   Sharps are for thicker fabrics.  Ballpoints are great for fabrics which are more delicate and which have fibers that could tear easily.

Accessories – There are a ton of accessories out there that can be purchased,  but these are the ones that we think every shop should have.

  • Thread Clips – For clipping jump stitches and making things look nice
  • Seam Ripper – Yes,  at some point you will need one. For ripping out stitches gone wrong.
  • Cleaning/Lint Brush – You’re doing your daily machine maintenance, right?
  • Machine oil – Really,  you’re keeping the machine cleaned and lubricated, right?

The main thing to remember,  when stocking your shop,  is that there are a lot of options out there.  Trial and error might be required to find out what options work best for you.   Don’t be afraid to ask for samples or advice.  We’re always happy to help.